CONTACT:  Martha Duran-Contreras                 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
310.450.8338, ext. 282                                          24 OCT 2008


The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will introduce a series of major Special Education initiatives within the next month to address Special Education needs in the District.

SMMUSD Superintendent Tim Cuneo is directing the efforts under a district-wide umbrella called the "SMMUSD Special Education Collaborative – Working Collaboratively for 21st Century Special Education Students." The District will lead the initiatives in partnership with the District's Special Education District Advisory Committee and the Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council Special Education Committee.

The initiatives are in response to parent and community concerns and recommendations contained in the March 2008 Independent Evaluation of the SMMUSD Special Education Program by Lou Barber & Associates.

"I see such potential in this district to provide superb Special Education services in a truly collaborative fashion. It is my mission, along with the firm commitment by our Board of Education, to do just that. I am confident that the steps that we'll take in the next few weeks will continue much of the good work that has already been done by the District Special Education staff, the Special Education District Advisory Committee, and the PTA. Working together as parents and educators, we will be able to improve district services and programs for all students in the Special Education program," states Superintendent Tim Cuneo about the Collaborative efforts.

The Collaborative Initiatives include:

Parent Handbook

A new Parent Handbook for families of SMMUSD students receiving Special Education services has been created by a volunteer committee of the Special Education District Advisory Committee. This handbook will be revised annually. It will be distributed to Special Education families in early November. Additionally, contents of the handbook will be featured in English and Spanish at the November 15th Fall Forum (see below). The Parent Handbook was edited in collaboration with parents, SMMUSD staff, attorneys, and administration.

The Parent Handbook is designed to help parents and/or guardians of children with a disability work effectively and collaboratively with the District and their school, and to help them support their child's effort to complete his or her school program in order to be prepared for adult life. It is also provides information about families' rights and responsibilities to better prepare all participants to work together effectively to assist students.

The Handbook is the result of many months of hard work on the part of members of the Special Education District Advisory Committee (SEDAC). SEDAC urges parents to know their support, attendance at school meetings, and encouragement from home contributes enormously to the quality of their child's education.

The Parent Handbook covers subjects such as deciphering acronyms, criteria for eligibility, types of disabilities and services, assessments, what to do if the process doesn't work, and finally, frequently asked questions.

Fall Forum

On Saturday, November 15th, the first ever Fall Forum will take place at the John Adams Middle School campus (2425 16th Street, Santa Monica) between 8am and noon.

A collaboration between the PTA Council Special Education Committee, District staff and leadership, the Fall Forum will provide information and support to parents and staff in an informal, social setting. It is intended to be "a time for sharing information and resources for families with children who receive special education services."

Todd Gary, the Special Needs Liaison at the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, and Wendy Parise, Professor at Santa Monica College Early Childhood Education Department, will speak. After the Keynote address regarding "Creating a Special Education Culture of Collaboration" by Mr. Gary, the group will divide into five break-out sessions led by parent-staff teams to discuss details contained in the Special Education Parent Handbook.

Break-out sessions will be divided into Preschool, Elementary, Middle School, High School, & Spanish Language. Detailed in the discussion as well as the Handbook are: the Referral and IEP process, Special Education laws, SMMUSD Special Education services, Dispute Resolution, & Terminology/Glossary.

The Forum is open, at no cost, to all community residents and SMMUSD families, with an emphasis on families receiving Special Education services in the district. Childcare, snacks, and translation will also be provided.

For more information, please log on to and, or contact with questions.

The Special Education Collaborative

The Special Education Collaborative will strengthen the quality and climate of Special Education in the District. A self-contained committee known as the "Working Group" will be charged with "reviewing, integrating, and prioritizing Special Education goals, strategies, and deliverables".

The Working Group will be supported and facilitated by Laura Peck of the Claros Groups and her associates along with Martha Duran-Contreras, the Project Lead from SMMUSD, and will work from November 2008 through, at least, February 2009.

Members of the Working Group will be selected through an open application process. For member criteria and to fill out an application, please visit or email Martha Duran-Contreras at DEADLINE FOR APPLICATION SUBMISSION is October 30, 2008.

Parent Resource Network

The Parent Resource Network will launch in early December (after November 14th & December 3rd trainings) to provide resources and support to Special Education families at individual school sites. It has been developed in partnership with the SMMUSD PTA Council Special Education Committee.

The district-wide Parent Resource Network will identify a parent at individual school sites to provide information and support to parents and families within our Special Education community. In addition, the network will provide resources to families by connecting parents with other parents with similar experiences, community groups, and helping families access resources within our own school community.
The program will be piloted at SAMOHI, John Adams Middle School, Lincoln Middle School, Grant Elementary School, and Cabrillo Elementary School, starting in early December 2008, then introduced at additional sites in the district over the course of the next year.

Resource parent volunteers, principals, and staff will take part in a twelve-hour training to learn communication, collaboration, and mediation skills. Additionally, this training will provide specific resources to help volunteers best support parents, teachers, families, and students. Trainings will be provided on November 14th & December 3rd by a team of staff & parents from San Ramon Valley Unified School District.

The Parent Resource Network is a sub-committee of the Santa Monica Malibu PTA Council Special Education Committee.

For more information, or to join one of the groups, please contact:

1651 16TH Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404
ph: 310.450.8338; fax: 310.581.1138

Thank You,
Sarah Wahrenbrock
Assistant to the Superintendent
SMMUSD - World Class Public Schools
310.450.8338 x229
310.581.1138 (fax)